Down in the Valley (folk song)

"Birmingham Jail" redirects here. For the open letter written by Martin Luther King, Jr., see Letter from Birmingham Jail.
"Down in the Valley"
("Birmingham Jail")
Form Ballad
Writer(s) Traditional
Language English

"Down in the Valley", also known as "Birmingham Jail", is a traditional American folk song.[1] It has been recorded by many artists, and is included in the Songs of Expanding America recordings in the Burl Ives six-album set Historical America in Song.

It is a ballad played in the 3/4 time signature. Lyrics vary, as with most folk songs. For example, sometimes the line "Hang your head over, hear the wind blow" is replaced by "Late in the evening, hear the train blow".[2] In 1927, Darby and Tarlton sang "down in the levee" in place of "down in the valley"; the version sung by Lead Belly in 1934 substitutes "Shreveport jail" for "Birmingham jail".[3]

Selected recordings

In other media

The song is the basis of the 1945 Kurt Weill and Arnold Sundgaard opera Down in the Valley.

The author/songwriter David M. Pierce used selected lyrics from the song as titles for a series of detective novels written between 1989 and 1996: Down in the Valley, Hear the Wind Blow, Dear, Roses Love Sunshine, Angels in Heaven, Write Me a Letter and As She Rides By. The first four verses are featured in Catherine Marshall's novel, Christy, before the prologue.

The song is sung in the movie Stir Crazy by the character Grossberger portrayed by Erland Van Lidth


  1. Ken Tate; Janice Tate (2004). Favorite Songs of the Good Old Days. DRG Wholesale. p. 29. ISBN 978-1-59217-034-0.
  2. Henry M. Belden; Arthur P. Hudson, eds. (1952). Folk Songs from North Carolina. The Frank C. Brown Collection of North Carolina Folklore. 3. Duke University Press.
  3. "The Shreveport Jail/Leadbelly". Traditional Music and Spoken Word Catalog. Library of Congress. Retrieved 2015-03-06.
  4. Charles K. Wolfe (2002). Classic Country: Legends of Country Music. Routledge. p. 90. ISBN 978-1-135-95734-6.

Further reading

External links

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